International Women’s Day: 4 Women Who Inspire Us

In the spirit of International Women’s Day worldwide we are featuring a range of inspiring women who are breaking boundaries, living their truths and redefining what it means to be a woman in this modern day and age. We asked each woman to provide a self-portrait of how they see themselves, in whatever medium they felt conveyed their essence, and the results were a beautifully diverse gallery of hand-drawn comics, self-portrait photos, paintings and illustrations.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied – Writer, Activist & “Recovering Engineer”

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What does it mean to you to be a woman in 2019?

I think it means whatever each one of us individually wants it to mean. It means having the choice to define womanhood for ourselves but not be gatekeepers for the concept in ways that hurt and exclude others. Although that’s easier said than done, it’s a challenge we can take on together, across all sorts of borders – and that’s a pretty wonderful thing.

IWD is about inclusively celebrating women all around the world. Can you share with us any women that inspire you?

I am inspired by all sorts of women. The women in my life, like Salma El-Wardany, Yumna Al-Arashi, Yousra Elbagir, are all young women of colour doing amazing things in their own spaces and that inspire me to keep going. First Nations women like Nakkiah Lui who are making it industries like theatre and truly shaking things up.  Then there are women slightly further afield who I admire greatly – Ava Du Verne, Dalia Mogahed, Chancellor Angela Merkel – all women who are doing bits in their own way, often uplifting those around them and paying it forward. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention any historical figures, like Khadeeja (RA), who was the first wife of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW). One of the most successful businesspeople at the time, she paid no attention to convention – she married the Prophet when she was 15 years older than him, she was his boss, and with six kids! If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is.

Your upcoming book You Must Be Layla focuses on the story of a young Muslim girl who is entering a new high school. How important is it for you to promote visibility for young Muslim women and encourage positive representation?

Hugely. Positive representation is my ‘thing’ at the moment – and although it isn’t the entire solution, it is a pretty big part of allowing people, especially those in marginalised communities – to feel seen, valued, respected and equal. As I’ve said many times before, I never really got to see characters who reflected my experience in anything that I read, listened to, or watched – and it wasn’t until I started seeing positive representation of POC and Muslim characters later in life that I started to think, OMG, is this what it’s like for everyone else? I don’t want young Muslim girls to have to wait till their 20s for that to happen. I want them to grow up in a world where their presence in stories is abundant and just as varied, textured and nuanced as their lives are too.

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Yassmin shot by Elliott Lauren

Do you have any advice to give to other Muslim women who are interested in pursuing a career in media?

It’s important to have a sense of why you want to be in the space and what values are important to you. Then, it’s about being brave, and sticking to those values. It’s not always going to be easy, because you’ll often be working with people who don’t have an understanding of the complexities of what you’re dealing with. Whether it’s the challenge of negative and stereotyped representation, the impact of racist and Islamophobic foreign policy, or frankly, living under Islamophobic domestic policies in countries across the western world – most people who aren’t Muslim or who haven’t spent time learning about the space don’t have any idea how tough it is. So, be prepared for the ignorance, and decide how much energy you have to educate those around you. That being said, you do not have to fight every single battle, otherwise you’ll end up burnt out. Find spaces where you can create work on your own terms, where you can refill your cup, where you don’t have to explain yourself – find safe spaces, if you will. I have a couple of WhatsApp groups with friends around the world who do similar work, and it’s a place where I can rant about things and know that I will be supported – having that kind of back up is priceless. At the end of the day, be kind to yourself. It’s tough out there, but trust me – it’s worth it.

Who’s currently on your playlist?

J Cole, Dermot Kennedy, Solange, Tierra Whack, Sam Fender, Marwa, and some Nina Simone for old times sake. Also, I almost always have the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat… 

What inspired your self-portrait?

I want to say some fancy line artist, but honestly? I loved drawing comics as a kid… so a bit of that.

Follow Yassmin on Instagram @yassmin_a

Linda Chen – Owner of Creepy Gals Shop, Illustrator & Designer.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in 2019?

Now is the time to be whatever form of a woman you want to be. Whatever aligns with your truth.

For me, it means having the choice to be whoever the fuck I want to be, to follow my dreams in creating the Creepy Gals Fantasy. It means allowing myself time to heal, it means feeling my power. It means not confining myself to societal expectations and constraints and actually doing things on my own terms.

There are still many obstacles and challenges that women face on a societal level, but we are coming into our power. We are fighting to exist on the same plane as men. And we will win because we are awakening to the truth of our power. It is a beautiful time to be a woman.

IWD is about inclusively celebrating women all around the world. Can you share with us any women that inspire you?

My momma is a really inspirational person in my life. We have no interests in common, and we can butt heads on ideology and what I should be doing with my life, but in essence she is the most inspiring person in my life. She moved to America from rural China back in the the 80s. She didn’t know anybody and didn’t speak a lick of English, but she and my dad built a life in America and supported me and my siblings. My mom is such a jovial person and loved by everyone in my home town. She is fearless and really doesn’t care what people think about her. She can have a conversation with anyone, even if she can’t fully articulate in English. I really admire these qualities about her. Her light, drive, strength, love and spirit are boundless. I aspire to channel her magic to manifest my own path and vision.

Your art and designs are not only stunning, but they also carry important messages that challenge outdated ideals of femininity and beauty. Would you say that fighting the patriarchy and promoting female empowerment has always been a part of your creative process?

Why thank you kindly! I feel that those qualities are inherent parts of my work. As a woman, feeling the weight of the patriarchy and toxic social standards is suffocating to me. My work is my way of combatting that, and it helps me reclaim my power. There’s nothing more I like than to subvert and defile centuries old oppressive ideologies.

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Do you have any advice to give to other female entrepreneurs who want to follow a similar career path?

If you have a desire in this life, I say go for it. Put it out into the universe and make moves. Life is ephemeral, so do the things that fulfill your soul needs.

It will definitely be challenging, I won’t lie about that. It takes passion, patience, persistence, and a real commitment to honing your craft. Create the work that gives you life and lights your fire, not something that you think others will like.  Remember to enjoy the journey – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And lastly, spread your fantasy like an infection! Like the Pope of Filth, John Waters said, “Go out into the world and fuck it up beautifully.”

Who’s currently on your playlist?

Right now there are various artists that suit my many moods: 

Kate Bush when I’m feeling in-tune and magical. 

Kali Uchis when I’m feeling my emotions and getting into that Scorpio groove.

The Cramps or Dead Kennedys when I’m feeling rowdy. 

Electric Wizard and Church of Misery when I need a cathartic release. 

Deadmeadow or Tame Impala when I’m feeling cosmic. 

Roy Orbison and Connie Francis when I’m feeling refined.

Rina Sawayama and SOPHIE when I’m feeling a little weird, in a good way 😉

3 Hour Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation with Rainfall every day to meditate the blues away. 

What inspired your self-portrait?

I wanted to recreate my birth card, The Empress, with a Creepy Gals flavor. In it, you see me really feeling my Big…CLOWN Energy. 

No Tarot card better represents what I feel is my spiritual path, and it is the perfect card for International Woman’s Day because she is the Earth Mother. She is Creativity, she is Beauty, she is Abundance, she is a powerful, nurturing force. 

Follow Linda on Instagram @creepy.gals

B’henji Ra – Interdisciplinary Artist, Mother of House of Slé, Founder of Sydney Mardi Gras Sissy Ball

international women's day

What does it mean to you to be a woman in 2019?

There was a lot of rhetoric that was thrown around in 2018 about what it meant to be a bad bitch and I think in 2019 it’s really about manifesting that in all areas of our lives. Like, actually embodying that physically, spiritually and mentally. For me, it means doing less labor in terms of things that aren’t my responsibility, such as interpreting or giving space for other’s opinions and thoughts about my identity. It means not carrying shit that does not belong to me so I can walk lighter in this world. It’s about doing NO free labor, especially when it comes to education! Not to mention emotional labour! It’s about conviction and trusting your inner bad bitch when it comes to everyday and life choices, no self-doubt in 2019!!! It’s about rest and taking the time to have deep healing moments. HEAPS of sister, mother, daughter, femme 4 femme moments – togetherness!! Basically, it’s about fucking off capitalism and white supremacy that drives women and femmes of color to the edge of self-destruction and has us working overtime with no actual material or personal gain.

IWD is about celebrating women inclusively all around the world. Can you share with us any women that inspire you?

Yes, basically all the girls in my house who consistently gagged me with not only their craft but their ability to stay grounded in love and protection for one another. Also my mother Leiomy Maldonado, who as a black trans woman conquered and broke barriers upon barriers that rarely get recognized or seen. She also has this relentless practice of READING people down, mostly publicly, which is so inspiring as so often we are conditioned to let shit slide but her awareness of white cis-heteronormativity TRYING IT is a reminder to stay alert and call it out!

B’henji shot by Eugene Choi

You’ve achieved an incredible amount as a multidisciplinary artist, mother to House of Slé and have been the curator/founder of the Sydney Mardi Gras Sissy Ball for the past 2 years. What have been some of your most memorable moments up until this point?

There’s a few moments both big and small; those moments that are recorded, and sooooo many moments that are only experienced within our house. I remember in 2018 when Leiomy deemed Yovana her daughter in class, it was a goosebump moment because I knew how much it meant for her. There were other moments where I remember the whole house snuggled up in my bed, probably reliving and debriefing a ball. Just last week I had Leiomy stay at my home and myself and another one of her daughters would spend most nights sitting at the edge of her bed listening to her talk about ballroom history, often with her brushing my hair or holding our hands. Those are actually the most priceless moments for me.

You have been a significant trailblazer for trans women of colour, promoting visibility and maintaining a strong voice for justice. Do you have any advice to give to other TWOC who are looking to enter the creative world?

You must ( AND I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH ) create your own platform to be seen and represented. It is one thing to be invited to have a seat at the table but to own the table, the chairs, the dining set, the whole entire fucking house is another thing. NO ONE will ever be able to tell our story except for us and once we change that then our visibility and mobility in this world will change too.

Who’s currently on your playlist?

Summer Walker!!! “honestly…”

What inspired your self-portrait?

I’m drawing myself pregnant because I’m the mother duh, and also I feel like I’m constantly pregnant with success…shout out to Jungle Pussy!!!

Follow B’henji on Instagram @newgenderwhodis

Christine Yahya – Graphic Designer & Illustrator @pink_bits

What does it mean to you to be a woman in 2019?

Being a woman in 2019 is all about the sisterhood (not just cisterhood). It’s about celebrating, supporting, empowering and marching for each other. It’s about breaking down the countless systems that have oppressed so many, recognising privilege and doing the work. It means a lot.

For me personally, being a woman in 2019 is something I don’t take lightly. There’s fire and awareness that I didn’t have when I was young / being groomed by the patriarchy that I now am devoted to fighting.

IWD is about inclusively celebrating women all around the world. Can you share with us any women that inspire you?

There’s so many inspiring people I could name! Here’s a couple:

On Instagram, your artist’s page bio reads Illustrating the bits and shapes we’re told to hide. How important is it to have wider representation for all-inclusive women’s bodies that work towards removing society-imposed stigma?

Representation is so important! I can’t emphasise this enough. 

There’s a very narrow range of bodies that we grew up seeing in our media (even now), that informed what society consider/s ‘normal’ or what has been stigmatised. 

When really, there is no normal, and no part of ourselves should be stigmatised or made to feel shame.

I strive to represent as many people as I can – seeing yourself reflected in artwork (especially within a space like Instagram), can feel so empowering, allows you to feel seen and can help unlearn so many things.

I work to provide representation for the physical as well as non-physical things that so often we’re told to hide.

Do you have any advice to give to other artists who want to follow a similar creative path?

To any creative I’d say, just start creating, sharing without fear, and without keeping an eye on numbers.

I think there is a strong emphasis on your follower count these days, and numbers being a reflector of your art’s value – which is deeply flawed, and untrue.

Something I grappled with was self doubt and self comparison. It can be especially hard in spaces like Instagram. To which i’d say:

You have a unique viewpoint, you have unique thoughts, feelings, experiences and ways of expression – capture and explore those things; no one else is you. Which may sound cliche or sappy, but it is true.

Don’t compare your art to others, your journey will be different to theirs, and your success will look different to theirs too. Improving your own practice is what’s important, and working towards your version of success.

International women's day

Who’s currently on your playlist?

Lately i’ve been listening to:

What inspired your self-portrait?

I was inspired by the joy i’ve had in drawing Pink Bits illustrations and the fun of applying brush strokes to paper. The illustration also features some pink bits and organic shapes in the background – a cheeky nod to the project name.

Follow Christine on Instagram @pink_bits

Interview by Sahar Nicolette

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